While often perceived as professionally successful, Asian Americans can find it harder to achieve their goals at work.
That’s according to a September McKinsey study of 24,842 U.S employees, in which 2,178 self-identified as Asian American. Per the report, 30 percent of Asian American respondents said their race made it harder to achieve their career goals, compared with 21 percent of White respondents.
The data seems to quash the myth that Asian Americans are a so-called model minority–that is, they’re obedient and hard-working individuals who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through immigrant striving. It also highlights a disconnect that may be festering in your workplace.
More findings from the report: Asian American workers are overrepresented in low-paying occupations such as manicurists and skin care specialists, cooks, and sewing-machine operators. The report also indicates that Asian Americans are paid less than their White counterparts in three-quarters of occupations with a median wage of $100,000 and above. On average, Asian Americans make 93 cents for every dollar earned by their White colleagues.
“Although the United States is home to a vastly growing Asian American population, even those who are U.S.-born are often treated as permanent foreigners,” says Kweilin Ellingrud, partner and director of the McKinsey Global Institute. “This experience is no different in the workplace and it is perpetuated by a significant lack of employee diversity within the workplace, especially in higher-level positions.”
Here’s how to make your Asian American employees feel more inclusive at work in the backdrop of rising anti-Asian hate crimes:
Understand the diversity within the Asian American community.
The Asian American community is built of a wide range of ethnic groups with varying experiences. A critical first step for companies is to acknowledge the diversity within this community and their experiences in the workplace, suggests Ellingrud. She says that employers should learn from statistical reports that are disaggregated by ethnicity to understand the unique insights from their Asian American workers.
Engage your Asian American workers in social activities.
Many Asian Americans, even those who were born in the United States, said that they are perceived in the workplace as perpetual foreigners–an indication of social exclusion, as per the report. It’s important to encourage your Asian American employees to join any social events at work. Moreover, recognizing diverse traditions and including cultural celebrations and holidays at work can be one avenue to help Asian American employees feel comfortable bringing their whole authentic selves to work.
Create effective sponsorship opportunities for Asian American workers in senior roles.
Effective sponsorship is critical for career advancement. The report indicates that leadership support and advocacy are greater for White employees than Asian employees at more senior levels. For senior managers and above, 52 percent of Asian American employees reported having sponsors, ten percentage points lower than White employees.
“Employers can create internal networking opportunities to establish sponsor connections and provide sponsors with the right tools to be advocates for employees,” says Ellingrud.
Recognize inclusion challenges for Asian American workers.
Over the past two years, Covid-19 has driven racism and violence against the Asian American community. After the first wave of the coronavirus, the unemployment rates for Asian American workers tripled from three percent in May 2019 to nine percent in May 2020, as per the report.
“The Covid-19 pandemic uncovered the dark side of the perpetual foreigner stereotype,” says Ellingrud. “Through derisive language and violent acts, the Asian American community became a target for discrimination in the United States. Becoming ‘othered’ in society, Asian Americans were pushed to feel similar isolation in the workplace.”
Addressing inclusion challenges for Asian American employees at this critical moment by establishing a mental health resource center is a great way to show support.
Companies should also consult professional groups like The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, a resource provider for mental health services for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians, and The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which offers a section of its website with resources specifically for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to get local therapy support.